Freedom of Religion is an amazing thing. Throughout history, wherever it has been the law of the land, culture has flourished and people have prospered. But there have always been points at which a belief in the supernatural comes into conflict with the realities of the natural world. And when the balance of power is in the hands of people who choose belief over evidence, those points can be deadly.
Such is the case when Faith comes into conflict with Medicine and a child is involved. It is assumed that parents always have the best interests of their children in mind, but for some parents those interests are secondary to upholding a system of belief. This causes them to seek miracles over medicine, prayer over prescriptions, and ultimately– Heaven over help.
And in several places in the United States, this practice is upheld by law.
The following states have laws on the books that exempt parents from responsibility for the deaths of their children due to opting for treatment based on religious belief rather than evidence-based-medicine:
State by state:
ARKANSAS – defense to capital murder:
It shall be an affirmative defense to any prosecution for capital murder arising from the failure of the parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis to provide specified medical or surgical treatment, that the parent, guardian, or person standing in loco parentis relied solely on spiritual treatment through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of an established church or religious denomination of which he is a member. Arkansas Code §5-10-101(a)(9)(B)
IDAHO – defenses to criminal injury to children, nonsupport and manslaughter
The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his/her child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child. Idaho Code §18-1501(4) The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to be a violation of the duty of care to such child. Idaho Code §18-401(2)
IOWA – defense to felony child endangerment and manslaughter
The failure of a parent, guardian or person having custody or control over a child to provide specific medical treatment shall not for that reason alone be considered willful deprivation of health care if the person can show that such treatment would conflict with the tenets and practice of a recognized religious denomination of which the person is an adherent or member. Iowa Code §726.6(d)
LOUISIANA – defense to criminal neglect, cruelty to children and manslaughter; also privilege
The providing of treatment by a parent or tutor in accordance with the tenets of a well-recognized religious method of healing, in lieu of medical treatment, shall not for that reason alone be considered to be criminally negligent mistreatment or neglect of a child. The provisions of this section shall be an affirmative defense to prosecution for the offense of cruelty to juveniles. Louisiana Revised Statutes §14:93(b) In any proceeding concerning the abuse or neglect or sexual abuse of a child or the cause of such condition, evidence may not be excluded on any ground of privilege, except in the case of communications between an attorney and his client or between a priest, rabbi, duly ordained minister or Christian Science practitioner and his communicant. Louisiana Revised Statutes §14:403(b)(5)
MISSISSIPPI – defense to contributing to the neglect or delinquency of a child and manslaughter
Mississippi’s definition of contributing to the neglect or delinquency of a child at Miss. Code §97-5-39 uses the civil definition of neglect at §43-21-105(l)(i), which includes a religious exemption. Mississippi Code §97-5-39 Mississippi’s definition of manslaughter at Miss. Code §97-3-29 requires the prosecutor to prove the defendant was engaged in the perpetration of a misdemeanor. When parents deprive a child of lifesaving medical care, the prosecutor would have to charge neglect to prove manslaughter
VIRGINIA – defense to criminal child abuse and neglect, manslaughter, and failing to secure medical attention for an injured child
Any parent, guardian or other person having care, custody, or control of a minor child who in good faith is under treatment solely by spiritual means through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination shall not, for that reason alone, be considered to have criminally abused or neglected the child. Virginia Code §18.2-371.1(C)
WASHINGTON – defense to criminal mistreatment and second-degree murder
It is the intent of the legislature that a person who, in good faith, is furnished Christian Science treatment by a duly accredited Christian Science practitioner in lieu of medical care is not considered deprived of medically necessary health care or abandoned. Revised Code of Washington §9A.42.005
These are only the states that include exemptions for children dying due to their parents seeking supernatural treatments such as prayer, rather than seeking medical attention from qualified physicians. Many other states include provisions to cover faith-related causes of Child Endangerment and Neglect:
ALABAMA – defense to child endangerment
A person does not commit an offense under section 13A-13-14 or this section for the sole reason he provides a child under the age of 19 years or a dependent spouse with remedial treatment by spiritual means alone in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof in lieu of medical treatment. Alabama Code §13A-13-6(b)
ALASKA – defense to nonsupport
There is no failure to provide medical attention to a child if the child is provided treatment solely by spiritual means through prayer in accordance with the tenets and practices of a recognized church or religious denomination by an accredited practitioner of the church or denomination. Alaska Statutes §11.51.120
There are more. In fact, 38 states have exemptions for Child Abuse due to religious reasons. 47 -all but three- states have religious exemptions for vaccination.
Some may argue that there’s a difference between allowing a child to die and deliberately killing a child. This distinction, we argue, is bullshit. When you have responsibility for a life that is both physically and legally helpless without you, every choice you make in their care is an act of volition –even choosing to do nothing, or prayer, which are effectively the same thing.
Sources: Child Healthcare is a Legal Duty, State Codes and Statutes